How to respond to God’s infinite love

With the latest edition of the Denver Catholic magazine, I am completing the telling of our story as children of God the Father. You might recall that the past two issues (read here and here) have covered how God brought us into existence as the peak of Creation, how we were taken hostage by evil and sin when Adam and Eve fell from grace, and finally, how the Father responded to our plight by sending his son into the world to rescue us through his death and resurrection. This column’s focus is the final chapter: how should we respond to what God has done for us?

This part of our story continually unfolds as we live our lives. We add to this narrative with each decision we make and with each day that passes. The Kingdom of God and our role in it is woven into this story, too. When we talk about the Kingdom of God, it’s helpful to realize that it is a kingdom that is unfolding in history and will only reach its final form at the end of time. It is what theologians have called the “already and not yet” reality of the Kingdom of God.

The Catechism describes this dual reality as follows: “By a discernment according to the Spirit, Christians have to distinguish between the growth of the Reign of God and the progress of the culture and society in which they are involved. This distinction is not a separation. Man’s vocation to eternal life does not suppress, but actually reinforces, his duty to put into action in this world the energies and means received from the Creator to serve justice and peace” (CCC, 2820).

The famous Christian author C.S. Lewis uses a vivid analogy to describe how we can locate ourselves within the timeline of our unfolding story. “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity).

So how can we respond to all that God has done for us? How can we engage in sabotage against the Evil One? We do this by knowing what the landscape around us looks like, where we are headed – to the Kingdom of God – and how to get there. 

In terms of where we are, the Church is catching up to the fact that the culture has become post-Christian. Many of our institutions and structures are operating using old maps that have features on them that have been wiped out by the rising secular tides. That is why Pope Francis joined his recent predecessors in calling for a “‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (Evangelii Gaudium, 27).

Most of us have grown up in a Church that is built around maintaining its institutional presence and to a degree relying on the surrounding culture to transmit Christian values, so this shift is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. It’s also difficult because God’s plan is never fully laid out in front of us. But the wonderful thing about adopting a missionary orientation is that it creates greater room for faith, trust and the action of the Holy Spirit. 

A good example of the impact of a missionary outlook is seen in Ananias, a Christian who we hear about in the conversion of St. Paul. Ananias was clearly a man attuned to the Holy Spirit, since he received a vision of Jesus, who told him to go to Paul and heal him of his blindness. Because he trusted in Jesus’ direction, Ananias obeyed, even though he knew that Paul had been persecuting the Christian community in Jerusalem. Ananias knew where he was going in the larger sense. He knew that spreading the Gospel was more important than any threat of imprisonment that he might risk by listening to what he heard through the Holy Spirit. So, he went to see Paul and the trajectory of the Church was eternally impacted by his obedience. We need to individually and as a Church seek to grow in this kind of faith if we are to be effective witnesses in the world today. 

The final thing that Ananias did when he arrived where Paul was staying lays out the path we should follow in building the kingdom of God. Ananias called Paul his brother, trusted in the Lord’s word to him about Paul’s conversion experience, and laid his hands on him to pray for his healing from blindness. 

In other words, we should respond to God’s love for us by relying on him to transform our hearts, to make us new creations that are capable of resisting and sabotaging Satan’s plans, and bring healing to those in need through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments. 

Those are somewhat general guidelines for our mission as Catholics in a post-Christian culture, so I would like to offer some additional fatherly advice. First, pack for the journey, which means establishing a regular prayer life of at least 15-20 minutes a day with the Scriptures, spending time listening to the Lord in his Word. 

Second, find a faithful, supportive community of friends, with whom you can pray together and talk about Scripture. If you don’t have a community in your parish, then you should consider if God is calling you to start one. You can meet in your home with that small community.

Third, apply St. Therese’s approach to the spiritual life to evangelization. St. Therese believed that following Jesus happens in everyday experiences, in little things. She was convicted that she could not be perfect in following the Lord and that he was always ready to forgive her if she was repentant. When applied to evangelization, this means that we should humbly seek to show our love for Jesus in the small acts and words of ordinary life and rely on his mercy when we fail to do so. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

Finally, we should look for the action of the Holy Spirit and be willing to follow his lead. Do not be afraid to venture into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. From now on, as Jesus told the Apostles, you will be fishers of men. This is how God calls us to respond to all that he has done for us. Let us pray for the courage and strength to follow him where he leads us. 

Featured painting: Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul Pietro da Cortona, 1631

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash